Q: How old were you when you started working as a repo man?
A: Actually, when I was 12 I had a paper route, and every Friday I had to collect. A lot of the customers wouldn’t pay.
Q: So you had it in the back of your mind? You knew some day you might be going after people who didn’t pay?
A: I don’t know if I was thinking about it at that time, but it gave me some experience.
Q: So when did you officially start in this line of work?
A: When I got out of the Air Force. I was 22 years old and I had six jobs in six weeks. Eventually I got a job working for Commercial Credit in Lancaster [PA]. I worked there for a year and I loved it.
Q: What did the job entail?
A: I knocked on doors, asked people to pay. When people didn’t respond to the collection letters, my boss would say, “Well, we have to make a house call on this one…” I would knock on their doors or leave them a note.
Then I moved to New Mexico and got a job working for a bank as an outside collector.
Q: What does that mean, “outside collector”?
A: You go to certain areas of the city, knocking on people’s doors.
Q: What did you say to people?
A: “I’m here regarding your delinquent car loan.”
Q: Was it mostly cars?
A: Mostly cars and mobile homes.
Q: And what if they didn’t have the money?
A: I’d put them on the phone to my boss, who would make the final decision. Sometimes he would tell them to give me the keys and we’d take the car and put it in storage for ten days and then sell it. The law in New Mexico is that you have to keep the car for ten days before it can go to auction.
I used to go to the Indian reservations for a week at a time. They’d give me a stack of like fifty accounts. A lot of people on the reservation didn’t have telephones—they just had P.O. boxes in some town somewhere. So I would ask around, “Where does this guy live, do you know?” and they would all say, “I don’t know.” The car dealers got smart and started making them give a map to their house.
Then I got a promotion to inside collector, which is strictly on the phone. I did that for a couple of years.
Q: When you had to do the in-person collecting, were you ever scared?
A: Not really.
Q: Did you carry a weapon?
A: No. You can’t threaten somebody. You can’t tell somebody something you can’t legally do. There are state laws, like you can’t carry a weapon, you can only call people between eight a.m. and nine at night, that kind of thing.
Q: Did you have to get the keys from people in order to take their cars?
A: If you can get to it you can take it. We would pull the car out of their driveway. Sometimes they would block it in, or park it in the garage… Once a guy chained his dog to his truck.
Q: Did anyone ever threaten you?
A: I had people pull guns at me and say, “I think you’d better leave” and I’d say, “Hey, I’m gone.” You can get a court order and the sheriff will come get it. They’ll assist you in a repossession if you have a court order. But you need to have a court order.
Q: So at some point you decided to open your own business?
A: I worked for the bank for ten years and I said to my wife, “I think we can make some good money doing this on our own.” I know how much we paid the guys to do it for us. When we couldn’t get the car ourselves we would hire an outside agency. They got paid pretty well.
Q: How did you begin?
A: We started in our third bedroom. But it got to be too big. At first I started as a subcontractor for the bank, but the business got so big… I’d go to different banks, present them with a package. We rented an office, then we bought a storage lot.
Q: Did you have strong security there at the lot? Like dogs?
A: Our insurance company wouldn’t allow us to have any kind of security. We had razor wire, but no dogs.
Q: The insurance company didn’t want you to have dogs?
A: It’s a lot better to let someone vandalize a car than to have a dog eat them.
Q: Did you ever have any breaches in security?
A: One time some guy came over the fence and I shouted, “Go get the dogs” and he believed me.
Another time, this kid who worked for me‹he knew where we kept the keys. He came over the razor wire, drove three vehicles away. The cops found him and his buddies three hundred miles away. They were going to take the cars to Mexico to get rid of them.
I’d let the guys take the tow trucks home, because they start their jobs around two or three in the morning. This kid stole the truck from his dad and drove it to California. On the way, he sold the tow apparatus. We got it back but the apparatus was gone.
Q: So the job never seemed that dangerous to you?
A: I’d tell my guys, if people don’t want to give up their cars, just walk away, we’ll wait till another time, maybe when they turn their backs… No, not really… The bank’s reputation is at stake, too. You can’t just threaten people.
Q: Were there perks to the job?
A: We used to go on nice trips… I’d say to my wife, “Hey, you want to go to El Paso?” and she’d ask, “How many cars do we have to pick up?” We’d be going out to dinner and I’d say, “Do you mind if we just make a side trip?” And we’d pick up a couple of cars on the way. We were also part of a national collections organization and got to go to conferences and meet people from all over the world who do the same thing we did.
Q: What made you sell the business?
A: I was pretty stressed—at least that’s what my wife said. There was no computer so it was all in my head. I did it for eleven years, 1984 to 1995.
Q: Was the business pretty lucrative?
Q: If your kid wanted to do this, would you let him?
A: In a minute.